I’m reminded to opine by an article in yesterday’s Washington Post which looks at Google’s program to digitize millions of books. There’s been a lot of excitement about this; many people adamantly pro or con.

As a digital historian I’m all for it.

I do the bulk of my initial research on line, followed by work in books, collections, and archives I find from online references. I find both sources and pointers to sources online. A vast collection of books searchable by browser sounds like Nirvana to me.

Beyond simple reference, I can only faintly imagine the amazing things that could be done with this new corpus literae googlius (apologies to Dr Turkel).

Google would/will make money doing this, of course. Perhaps they’re the Devil.

Publishers and authors oppose this project, citing massive copyright infringement. They may even be right, though they downplay the fact that Google will not make complete copyrighted works available to the public, just snippets.

If I were a print author, I’d be jump on this deal with the Devil. Google stores the full text of my book and gives away a page or two to anyone that hits it during a search. In exchange, Google sees to it that anyone with a browser can find my book, and, if in print, provides a link to purchase it.

Similarly, consider the way Google (Yahoo, Ask, etc) indexes and caches the entire Web. My website AotW, like most, is copyrighted. I have specific licensing requirements for copy and re-use. Search engine robots ignore these. They copy, extract, republish, and index my entire site without my permission. Text, images, everything. Then they’ll show it to anyone that asks.

I can opt-out (via robots.txt), but I didn’t expressly opt-in.

Am I outraged?

Well, no. Without search engines I’m shouting into the wind, and no one hears. With them, a thousand new friends a day can find me. And my intellectual property is still mine.

I think there’s a parallel for print authors. If the concern is for the market value of a copyrighted book, what will its value be when 100 or 1000 or 100,000 more people can find it?



  • I’m not a print author, so what do I know. For particularly spirited opposition from someone who is, see fellow blogger Eric Wittenberg’s latest on the subject.
  • Google says:

… For publishers and authors, this expansion of the Google Print program will increase the visibility of in and out of print books, and generate book sales via “Buy this Book” links and advertising. For users, Google’s library program will make it possible to search across library collections including out of print books and titles that weren’t previously available anywhere but on a library shelf.

Users searching with Google will see links in their search results page when there are books relevant to their query. Clicking on a title delivers a Google Print page where users can browse the full text of public domain works and brief excerpts and/or bibliographic data of copyrighted material. Library content will be displayed in keeping with copyright law …
(from a Google Press Release. See also the Library page from the Google Page Search site for more details.)

  • Litigating publishers say:

≈ìThe publishing industry is united behind this lawsuit against Google and united in the fight to defend their rights,¬ù said AAP President and former Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder. ≈ìWhile authors and publishers know how useful Google’s search engine can be and think the Print Library could be an excellent resource, the bottom line is that under its current plan Google is seeking to make millions of dollars by freeloading on the talent and property of authors and publishers …

… As a way of accomplishing the legal use of copyrighted works in the Print Library Project, AAP proposed to Google that they utilize the well-known ISBN numbering system to identify works under copyright and secure permission from publishers and authors to scan these works … Google flatly rejected this reasonable proposal … Mrs. Schroeder said: ≈ìIf Google can scan every book in the English language, surely they can utilize ISBNs. By rejecting the reasonable ISBN solution, Google left our members no choice but to file this suit.¬ù

Mrs. Schroeder noted that while ≈ìGoogle Print Library could help many authors get more exposure and maybe even sell more books, authors and publishers should not be asked to waive their long-held rights so that Google can profit from this venture.” …
(from the Press Release announcing the lawsuit by the AAP)

    2 Responses to “Google Print Library is good for us”

    1. eric Wittenberg says:


      I respect your opinion, but I vehemently disagree for reasons you’ve already pointed out.

      The day that my intellectual property can be stolen like that is the day I cease writing. End of story.


    2. Brian Downey says:

      Thanks for the comment Eric. I do recognize your position — it’s very clear, easy to understand — that’s why I linked to you first at the end of my post.


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